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United Nations Global Compact: an ‘Inroad’ into the UN and reputation boost for the tobacco industry
  1. Yvette van der Eijk1,
  2. Patricia A McDaniel2,
  3. Stanton A Glantz1,3,
  4. Stella A Bialous1,2
  1. 1 Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  2. 2 School of Nursing, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  3. 3 Department of Medicine, Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, and Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Yvette van der Eijk, Centre for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-1390, USA; Yvette.VanDerEijk{at}


Background The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), a UN initiative to engage corporations in supporting the UN’s mission, sets out principles that companies should follow for more ethical business practices. Since its inception in 2000, at least 13 tobacco companies, subsidiaries and tobacco industry affiliates joined the UNGC. In a September 2017 integrity review, the UNGC Board excluded from UNGC participation companies who derive revenue from tobacco production or manufacturing.

Objective To determine, from the tobacco industry’s perspective, tobacco companies’ motives for joining the UNGC.

Method Tobacco industry documents search using the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library, and search of published reports and documents on the tobacco industry and the UNGC.

Results Tobacco companies sought to join the UNGC for two reasons: (1) to improve their reputation, in keeping with other corporate social responsibility efforts; (2) to gain proximity to UN agencies and weaken the WHO’s influence, part of an overall strategy to undermine the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Conclusions Excluding tobacco manufacturers from UNGC participation is an important step to limit the tobacco industry’s ability to influence the UN and promote its image and, by extension, its deadly products. It is important to monitor enforcement of this policy and resist the engagement of tobacco industry front groups, such as industry-funded foundations, with the UNGC.

  • global health
  • denormalisation
  • human rights
  • tobacco industry
  • tobacco industry documents

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  • Contributors YvdE: study conceptualisation, data analysis, writing. PAM: data analysis, writing. SAG: principal investigator of the R01CA087472 grant. SAB: study conceptualisation, writing.

  • Funding NIH National Cancer Institute awards R01CA087472 (YvdE) and R01 CA120138 (PAM). The funders played no role in the conduct of this research or the preparation of this manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement All data used in this research are publicly accessible at